Martinez: 'Cotto is afraid of fighting me'

As the current linear middleweight champion of the world, Argentina's Sergio Martinez (47-2-2, 26 KOs) has a number of options for what could translate into attractive and lucrative fights. Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto and other lower-weight champs see in him the chance to grab a middleweight title against a fighter of similar size -- and to perhaps engineer that title shot at a catchweight below the 160-pound limit. Moreover, Martinez's decisive victories against much bigger fighters such as Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams have made him a target for fights at higher weights, where he could be lured by attractive paydays against fighters with clear size advantages. But in the midst of navigating through these possibilities, Martinez, 36, will face England's Darren Barker (23-0, 14 KOs) -- an undefeated, up-and-coming yet relatively untested challenger -- on Saturday in a championship bout. We recently tracked down the man they call "Maravilla" (Marvelous), who had this to say about his upcoming defense and beyond:

How was your training for this fight?
I have been training since the beginning of August. I trained for about eight hard weeks. I sparred with a guy named Steve Martinez, a very good Puerto Rican fighter, and some other great guys. But in any case, the training that I do is more focused on athleticism than boxing. I only do six days of sparring during the entire training camp -- three days in one week and three more days the next week.

You are considered a complete fighter, with lots of mobility, power -- the whole package. Is there an aspect of your style that takes more work to maintain or develop further at your age?
I try to improve everything at once. The physical part is the hardest and the most intense, and then I work on technique, tactics and strategy. It is a very complete effort, I don't leave anything to chance. There is no area in which I can't learn something new. In any case, we worked a lot more on tactics and strategy this time. The last few weeks of training, we work hard on it. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I work on my strategy. The rest is just physical: I work on endurance, change of pace and a lot of work on my speed.

There are plenty of attractive possibilities for you above and below the middleweight division. Are you inclined to keep your weight low, or would you be willing to gain weight to try your luck at a higher weight?
I try to focus mostly on the fighters in the lower weight classes, at 154 or lower. My body has a tendency to lose weight. I'm a small middleweight -- I'm not a natural middleweight like Kelly Pavlik, who is a big fighter. If I had to go up a little bit to a catchweight in order to get a fight with guys like Andre Ward or Carl Froch, I wouldn't have any problems. But going up directly to 168 would be suicidal for me. I walk around at less than 168 when I'm not even training, usually at about 165. I'm definitely not ready for that division.

If you go back down in weight to a lower division, who would you like to face?
A few days ago, I said something about Pacquiao, because he said in an interview that if I went down to 150 pounds, he would fight me. So I said that I would go down to 150, and now we're waiting for their answer. I already gave the go-ahead. All we need now is to find out whether he is interested, or if he really likes the fight. As long as they accept it, that fight will take place, anytime.

Will you watch the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch as a fan or as a scout for a new opponent?
I could be fighting either one of them, but I hope Margarito wins. I will say it again: I hope Margarito wins, because I know he wouldn't have any problem fighting me, which is something Cotto won't do. Cotto doesn't want to face me. He will make excuses about the money, or about this or that day not being good for him, or about not liking the color of my socks -- anything -- I don't know. Lately he has been saying that the money is too short. I have to tell Cotto that if all he cares about is money, then I promise to hand over my purse to him if he wins, no problem. I can sign on that, anytime and anyplace. But I know Cotto is afraid of fighting me, no matter what he says. It's all excuses. If he is the champion he used to be, or the champ he believes he is, he wouldn't have any problem facing me. But obviously now any excuse is good for him.

Is it still important to you to recover the WBC middleweight belt that was taken from you, and to fight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in order to get it back?
What happened at that time was that I didn't have many opponents interested in fighting me, and I didn't have any offers from Pacquiao, Mayweather or anyone like that. I still have the intention to recover that title belt. It was mine, it is mine and it will continue to be mine. I lost it in a ridiculous way, in an office, and through a telephone call. And then, after seeing Chavez win it, the way in which he won it, and seeing him tell everyone that he is going to fight me, I became hopeful that Chavez would dare to fight me someday. But Chavez isn't going to have the courage to fight me. He simply won't. Neither Chavez, nor his team, nor his entourage or his promoters, everyone around him who are protecting him -- they are not going to allow Chavez to face me. It's a subject that used to get all my attention, to be able to recover that belt, but that dream is fading right now.

So who has the best chance to become your next opponent in the not-so-distant future?
Right now, I can't say I have anyone in mind. I am so focused on Barker that I can't look beyond that. I don't have anyone in mind planned for any day beyond [Saturday].

What do you know about Darren Barker?
I know he's a pretty smart fighter, he is very sneaky, he isn't the flat-footed British slugger who will stand in front of you and go toe to toe -- he isn't like that. He's a fighter who has the intelligence to make a different type of fight. Technically, he is very good; he has good technique, and we hope things to be complicated with him. But if things go as the stats suggest, like I say, or as our styles suggest, it's likely that I will win the fight, probably by knockout.

How do you manage to keep your focus on guys like Barker when you know that there are lots of other more talented fighters waiting to fight you for much more money?
My mindset is that on [Saturday] I will be facing an opponent who will come at me with the same willingness and the same aspirations I had when I got to the U.S. to have my first fight here. He will have the same hunger I had back then and the same bad intentions I brought with me. And that makes him very dangerous. I believe this is more than enough reason to prepare as well as I did and to train the eight weeks that I trained in order to give my best.

How do you see this fight unfolding, round by round?
I can only talk about the first round, not the second or beyond. After the second round, it is very hard, almost impossible, for me to visualize it. I will come in trying to measure him first, to have a classic round of study at the beginning, as I always do. Once I have studied him for one round and I have his timing and his distance already measured, I will then be looking for the right time to start putting pressure on him.

Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.